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Looking back at past presidential funerals

Party differences seemingly melt away during state funerals

The nation bid goodbye to former president George H.W. Bush with high praise, cannon salutes and gentle humor Wednesday, celebrating the life of the Texan who embraced a lifetime of service in Washington and was the last president to fight for the U.S. in wartime.

Presidential funerals are meticulously planned years in advance by a large military task force that works closely with the government and the former presidents' family members. 

When the nation's first president, George Washington, died, he was buried in a modest, private ceremony at his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.

Historians say the expectation for retired presidents was to return to their normal lives following their time in office and that would dictate their funeral services. 

It wasn't until President Abraham Lincoln's death when one of the first true national funerals took place after his assassination in 1865. His body was taken on a train ride covering more than 1,700 miles to his home of Springfield, Illinois. Along the way, the train would stop in major cities. There would be a huge funeral procession. People would wait for hours to pass by the casket.

The first state funeral to be televised was President John F. Kennedy's funeral after his tragic 1963 assassination. 

On June 11, 2004, both former President George H.W. Bush and then-President George W. Bush delivered somber remarks during former President Ronald Reagan's funeral. 

"As his vice president for eight years, I learned kindness. We all did," George H.W. Bush said. "I also learned courage. The nation did."

At former president Gerald Ford's funeral in 2007, George H.W. Bush again gave a eulogy. He said Ford brought the country together after the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, and said his presidency will be remembered at a time of healing in the country. 

Party differences also melt away during presidential funerals.

In 1994, Democratic President Bill Clinton spoke at the service for Republican Richard Nixon, saying he should be remembered for all of his career and praising Nixon for his foreign policy insights

Historians note there is also a new trend in recent decades for former presidents choosing to be buried at their presidential libraries.

This holds true for the 41st president. George H.W. Bush He will be laid to rest Thursday at his family plot on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. His final resting place is alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years, and Robin Bush, the daughter who died of leukemia at age 3.


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